Creative Child

3 Reasons We Need to Teach Children Healthy Eating Habits at a Young Age

by Ana Reisdorf

School, carpool, soccer, chess club, swim lesson, homework, baseball, gymnastics, and band practice. Does this crazy schedule sound familiar? While many parents want to expose their children to an array of different activities (who's to say you don't have the next Michael Phelps on your hands, right?), there may be unintended consequences of spreading our lives so thin.


As we drive from one activity to the next, it's no wonder the drive-thru line is full of well-intended parents trying to feed their kids quickly. Making a habit out of eating on the run and purchasing mainly processed convenience foods are all ways in which parents are contributing to the obesity epidemic that is plaguing children throughout this country and the world.

The good news is that we can teach our children about healthy eating habits at a young age to motivate and empower them to eat healthier. This sets the stage for health and wellness far into adulthood. Here are some of the benefits that can come from early exposure to healthy eating.


1. Better chances of life-long healthy choices

Most of us have watched an infant's face while being introduced to new and different flavors. As comical as those faces can be, this critical stage in infancy sets the tone for a lifetime of what we hope becomes healthy eating habits. As parents, we usually interpret this face as a child disliking a food, when in reality these faces are telling us that this new food is different and unexpected. We may be tempted to throw in the towel after offering a food that the baby may seem opposed to. Let's not give up!

Studies have shown that it can take up to 20 or more exposures to a new food for a child to acquire a taste for it. Research has also found that early exposure to a variety of fruits and vegetables increases the likelihood of regular consumption later in life. For those of us who may have missed the boat with respect to fruit and vegetable intake for our babies, all is not lost. Parents have many opportunities to "model" healthy eating for their children which has a lasting impact on their food choices. A second helping of Brussel sprouts? Don't mind if I do!

2. Improved academic performance

We all dream of academic success for our children. But how does healthy eating make this dream a reality? Nutrition affects cognitive skills, behavior, and overall health, which all have an impact on academic performance. More specifically, eating breakfast, having adequate fruit and vegetable intake, and limiting intake of sugar-sweetened drinks all improve cognition, concentration, energy levels, positively impacting academic performance among school-aged children.

Conversely, deficiencies in certain nutrients early in life can negatively affect the cognitive development of school-aged children. A 2014 study found that students who ate more fast food performed worse on math and reading tests. By offering a variety of well-balanced healthy foods we can't guarantee that our children will become valedictorians of their class, but it's a great starting point!

3. Higher likelihood of a healthy relationship with food

We may find nothing more exasperating than preparing a home-cooked meal after a long day, only to have our child reject it. Moving away from the "clear your plate" mentality and more towards encouraging children to listen to their internal hunger cues helps to create a healthy relationship with food.

By learning to listen to their physical cues for hunger and fullness, children can reduce their risk of overeating and yo-yo dieting later in life. It can be hard to be patient when you’re allowing your children to choose how much to eat, particularly when they don't want to eat anything! By doing so, however, we increase the likelihood of a child's willingness to eat the food in the end. Rather than forbidding "bad" foods, explaining the differences between "everyday" foods and "sometimes" foods, can help foster a child's healthy relationship with food. Being a positive role model for our children is a more effective way to encourage this healthy relationship versus strictly controlling their diet.

From warding off obesity to improved grades, healthy eating habits can impact many facets of a child's life. Teaching healthy eating habits at a young age can positively shape a child’s future, health and wellness.

Ana Reisdorf is a licensed dietitian and writer for Walgreens. Ana enjoys sharing her knowledge of the importance of proper nutrition with parents. Optimize your family’s nutrition with a combination of healthy foods and vitamins and supplements, which can be found at

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